A Complete Lack of Self-Recrimination Demonstrates an Unusual Skill


The lake was black. The wreck was down below. Through the ice. I think I was the only one to see it go through. The lights up on the bridge were strobing, as they do at night, to keep low-flying planes from hitting them. I could hear the sound of the snowmobile, and the cracking of the ice. I wasn't too far away, just up on the bridge. Close enough to see the guy go through. My first reaction was to jump off and dive in, try to find the guy, perform a rescue. Be gallant, and galavant about just after. But I didn't—what could I do? The ice was shattered for a hundred feet at least—as far as I could see in the light coming through the snow from the streetlights just a ways away. Don't they know, I wondered? Don't they get it, that the ice is always thinner than you'd think, especially when it's overcast. Especially when it's snowing? Especially when the snow is laying itself down on the lake, adding weight to mount on what's beneath? I felt this awfulness like when each of my relatives had died, this hissing feeling like you're in a life raft and something's cut a hole. The sound of the cracking ice was not unlike the barn-collapsing-sound that I heard only once in person, in 1979 when we had had 300 inches of snow and everything was buried. The barn snapped like a back and the whole thing caved in. We didn't use it before anyhow. And later, I'd pore through the wreckage and find tiny metal parts for some unknown, obsolete machine, and collect them in shoe boxes, and tell myself I wasn't a bizarre kid after all. It was the sound of things giving way; this must happen to everyone at least one and sometimes only one time, where your whole life gives way and you're dropped into something else entirely. Some sieve. When the boat that's taking you out to Isle Royale, the Ranger III, sinks. The sound filled me with dread and something else, like awe—at the colossus that rules the winter, how it takes and keeps the confidence and lives of men, and turns them into stories. Men and men. Men and men. I've never seen a woman go through the lake like that. Not once. And there are many who go snowmobiling. They just don't feel the pull to cross the canal when the ice is softened and not so thick. They themselves are not as thick. My mother died in 1985, but not this way. The way she went and finally got out of this place was something else completely.